Pickles and chutneys are part and parcel of Indian diets from time immemorial wile papad is a totally an Indian creation. What is common for these products is the high salt content and since the close linkage between salt and hypertension came to surface these high salt products are receiving close scrutiny from health and nutritionists. During the last few years there have been questions regarding the future of the industry which churn out these products and even this blogger had published a piece on the future of pickle industry in India. While these developments are being driven by the scientific finding that salt intake has to be drastically reduced to prevent the hypertension and cardiac epidemic sweeping through many countries with high salt consumption spreading further taking a heavy toll of human lives. So far no standards are presently available in India with regard to optimum level of salt that can be consumed by Indians under the Indian conditions. But a recent expose on the subject which is referred to below, calls for reducing the salt intake from the reported level of 6-8 gms by 15-20% that can prevent thousands of death due to disorders like hypertension, CVD and Kidney ailments. Here is a take on this issue.
Experts say that Indians consume up to 6 to 8 grams of salt daily, while the Indian health ministry hypertension guidelines say that only 2.4 grams is recommended. It isn't excess salt intake alone that heightens an Indian's chances of getting hypertension, it's also the Indian build. "Indians have thinner blood vessels than Caucasians, leading to different salt sensitivity among the two groups. Hence, the Indian blood vessel's ability to handle salt is lower than others," said Joshi, who practises at Lilavati Hospital in Bandra. A study done in Chennai in 2007 found that an increased intake of 1.5 to 2 grams of salt was associated with an increase in high and low blood-pressure by approximately 1mm Hg (the unit to measure blood pressure). "The risk of cardiovascular disease rises with blood pressure throughout the normotensive (normal) blood-pressure range and almost 60% of coronary heart disease events and 45 to 50% of strokes occur in those with high normal blood-pressure," said the study conducted by Dr V Mohan of Chennai.Any reduction in salt intake brings about a healthy change as far as hypertension is concerned. The Chennai study, which was published in JAPI (Journal of Association of Physicians of India), found that a reduction in intake of sodium by 1.2 grams daily would lead to a 50% reduction in the number of people requiring anti-hypertensive therapy. The lower intake could also mean a 22% reduction in the number of deaths due to stroke and a 16% reduction in the number of deaths due to coronary artery disease. Incidentally, if one sticks to the traditional Indian diet, hypertension wouldn't be such a problem. Dr Jagmeet Madan, principal of the SNDT College for Nutrition, Juhu, said, "If you stick to the traditional Indian diet, you will never go higher on salt." The problem creeps in when additions creep in to the Indian thali. "Adding chutneys, pickles and papads sends the salt balance haywire," she said. So, processed foods should be kept as "sometime foods" instead of everyday foods.
In India every data has to be viewed with suspicion for its veracity and same is true with regard to salt consumption also. Earlier there were reports that Indians consume on an average 12 gms of salt every day though this information also must be the guess work of some statistcians without doing any representative field survey. In developed countries where commercially processed foods constitute almost 80% of daily diet salt consumption is sought to be controlled through regulating salt in such foods either voluntarily or through mandatory rules. There are campaigns in some countries to sensitize citizens regarding the dangers of high salt consumption and consciously reduce daily intake gradually to levels considered safe. One often wonders whether salt is really as dangerous as being made out currently because for centuries pickles, chutneys and papads were being consumed regularly with no significant health hazards. How this situation has changed now? Is it because of ignoring the traditional foods Indians have been consuming for long and switching over to more and more factory processed foods with high salt content? Food industry world over are known to use the trioka of salt, sugar and fat to make consumers food addicts leading to many of the modern day life style disorders like obesity and others. Now that civilization has come so far depending heavily on processed convenient foods with doubtful health credentials, it is better to be more cautious in consuming food ingredients like salt and follow the guidelines for keeping one self healthy!